By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Ben Ramsey is making memories, and good ones too.
The Graham senior defeated Amanda Hollandsworth of Floyd County on the first playoff hole to capture medalist honors in the Region 2A-West Tournament on Thursday at Fincastle on the Mountain.
Ramsey and Hollandsworth each finished 18 holes with identical 72s. The duo played one extra hole, with Ramsey recording a par to claim the title.
What made Ramsey even happier was that Graham finished second as a team, scoring a 323 to 321 by Floyd County, sending the G-Men to the first-ever Group 2-A State Tournament slated for Oct. 14-15 at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club in Front Royal, Va.
The two teams and top six individuals not on those teams survived to play again.
“It is great to make it as an individual, but let alone as a team,” Ramsey said. “It is going to be a blast the next couple of weeks, we are going to have fun, memories that we will take forever.
“We are really happy to advance. We have a really good shot at competing and just having a good time really.”
Hollandsworth led the Buffaloes to the Region 2A-West team title with her 72. Alex Conner added a 77, followed by a pair of 86s from Morgan Cox and Jack Williams, Floyd County has won five state championships, including four under current coach Skip Bishop.
“We came up and played a practice round on Tuesday and we emphasized it is going to be real tough putting on these greens,” Bishop said. “You can’t give in to it, you just have to keep your head in there and keep working.
“Even though some of them three-putted several greens they hung tough.”
Graham finished two strokes behind the Buffaloes, with Zach Toohey adding a 79. Jacob Britton contributed an 84 and William McGuire had an 88, as the G-Men let a couple of big scores on late holes drop them to second place, nine strokes clear of third place James River.
“We made a few mistakes out here, but this is a very tough region and there are only four teams in the entire state going there,” said Graham coach Matt Dixon, whose G-Men finished third in the state in 2011. “That has changed a lot, there used to be eight teams there.
“We are tickled to death to represent Region 2A-West and you have got to give credit to Floyd. They played outstanding, they have a great individual talent in Amanda Hollandsworth. We are excited and we get to compete for a state championship soon.”
In addition to the Floyd County and Graham teams advancing to state competition, the individual qualifiers included two Richlands products, Zach Luttrell (77) and Dylan Sawyers (78). They will be joined by Kory Wilson (77) of Giles, Marion’s Austin Blevins (77) and Chase Mayberry (78) from Randolph Henry.
Sawyers and Mayberry defeated Mick Leonard (78) of Lebanon on the second playoff hole to secure the final two spots.
Graham won the Conference 39 championship last week at Fincastle, led by Ramsey, but he went into Thursday event remembering the disappointment of playing poorly in last year’s Region C event.
“Last year I didn’t play that well at all, we didn’t advance and I really tried to make that as a goal this year,” Ramsey said. “I was trying to get a whole lot better as a player and grinding out practice and making sure that I knew the circumstances and if it came down to it I know what to do and I can pull it off.”
He did it. On the one extra hole, Hollandsworth — a senior who will play next fall at Virginia Tech — drove right down the fairway, and Ramsey watched and learned.
“I did position myself pretty well, she teed off first and hit wood off the tee, I went with driver after I saw she hit a really good ball down the middle,” Ramsey said. “I just tried to hit a driver down there, she hit her approach shot over the green and I knew that would be a really tough up and down.
“I played conservative towards the middle and took my chances with a 2-putt and make a good par, and if she made par, that is great, we would go on to the next hole. I just got lucky, she hit a good shot, it just didn’t work out.”
Beating Hollandsworth was no small feat for Ramsey.
“Floyd County has a great program,” he said. “Amanda is a great player. I know she is going to Virginia Tech and she will do really well.”
Ramsey, who was a key part of Graham’s state tournament team two years ago, has improved immeasurably, and Dixon has watched it happen.
“Ben has put a lot of work individually, it is nothing we have done, it is all about him and what his family has done,” Dixon said. “He has put in a lot of work the last several years and he is just a fantastic golfer and he is a great teammate and a great leader for our guys.
“He is not real worried about the individual awards and he always puts the team first. He is just a great individual golfer and a great talent.”
Bishop said that Hollandsworth, whose sister, Jessica, was a standout at Floyd County and the University of Maryland, was apparently more excited that the Buffaloes were going to return to the state tournament.
“She is very talented, she has got a lot of friends that helped her out today,” Bishop said. “She told me, ‘I am just happy the team is going, and I will go do what I can on the playoff’.”
Floyd County was just happy to be in the event as a team. The Buffaloes lost six times during the district season to Giles, but finished second to James River in the Conference 38 Tournament last week to slip past the Spartans and qualify for regionals.
“We are excited, the team really jelled late in the season,” Bishop said. “It didn’t seem fair that Giles is in our district and beat us six times this year, the first time we beat them was (last) Monday to get here.
“Some how you have got to put more emphasis on the regular season, you have got to have that mean something. For us this year it worked out very nicely.”
Golf is the first sport in Virginia to qualify athletes for state competition since the conference realignment was completed. Instead of eight teams in the Group A tourney as has been done in the past, only four teams and 12 individuals will be in Front Royal when the event begins in 11 days.
“We made it two years ago, but I think it is a lot harder to make it in this format than it was a couple of years ago, really we are just thrilled to be there,” Ramsey said. “It was phenomenal then, we had a great time, I had a lot of friends go, it was great, we will remember it forever.”
Bishop knows all about winning state tournaments, but the Buffaloes haven’t won a title since Jessica Hollandsworth’s final year in 2008.
“I am extremely pleased with the way they have played the last two matches, the conference tournament and here today, they put it all together,” Bishop said. “Now there is only four teams there, if you have got to play you might as well go to win, anything can happen.
“The thing about the state tournament, it is a marathon, not a sprint. You have got to keep your head in there no matter what you do on the first day, you can’t win it that first day.”
Knowing the increased difficulty of reaching the state level was not lost on Dixon or the G-Men.
“It is a huge honor,” Dixon said. “You look at how big the state of Virginia is and little Graham High School is going to represent this area along with Floyd with and two teams out East.
“I am just real tickled to death for our kids.”
Don’t expect the G-Men to be satisfied. The work continues with an eye toward the biggest prize in high school golf.
“We have a good bit of time to get ready and I think we will have a good couple of weeks up here,” Ramsey said. “When we go up there we will have a great time, have a lot of fun and hopefully play some good golf.”
—Contact Brian Woodson